"And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home" Deuteronomy 6:5-6
The world provides us plenty of teaching moments each day. It's our job as parents to use these every once in a while (I say every "once in a while" because our kids would quickly tire of discussion-time every time the tv or radio gets turned on). The key to spring-boarding these good discussions is well-placed questions.
Here are four practical tips helping you ask well-placed questions on the fly.
The first step to helping our kids think through situations is getting them to pause for a moment and simply observe what they just encountered. This can be achieved by merely asking, "What did he just say?"
This simple question nudges young people to actually stop and truly look at something.
As I write this, the top song on iTunes is Lana Del Rey's, High on the Beach. This song is about way Lana is dealing with a breakup...by escaping to the beach to get high. Hence the chorus:
All I wanna do is get high by the beach
When parents hear this song, the first question we can ask is, "What did she just say?"
The next natural question is, "What does she mean?"
Yes. Play dumb.
Basically, we're making our kids actually process the content... maybe even for the first time. This question subtly hints, lyrics matter. We're not merely shrugging our shoulders and saying, "Who cares!" We're taking notice.
Be careful of tone. Approach this question with curiosity, not judgment. The whole purpose of these questions is to open doors, not slam them shut if our kids smell a trap. Our purpose is to steer kids towards truth and let them discover the answers for themselves. A condemnatory attitude will jinx this whole process. So tread carefully!
So simply ask, "What does she mean 'get high by the beach'?"
These questions lead to the next natural step...
Ask them their two cents. Ask:
"How's that going to work out for her?"
"Has she thought this through?"
This provokes our kids to offer insight based on their own personal values. Instead of telling our kids how to think, we are asking them what they think.
Imagine your kids share about a friend who is spreading rumors at school. The temptation would be to get up on our soapbox and begin lecturing about gossip. Resist this temptation. Turn your lecturing to listening... with a well-placed question. Simply ask: Do you think she was right?
And as they're stumbling through their own values, ask them one last question to steer them towards truth...
Direct them towards scripture. Ask: "What does the Bible say about this?"
If our kids don't know the exact chapter and verse, then be ready to direct them. Yes, this requires us to be in the Word ourselves so we know where to point. Don't worry; if you don't know a scripture off hand, don't be afraid to admit, "Let's look this one up later when we get home."
When you open scripture, go through the same line of questioning outlined above.
1. What does that scripture say?
2. What does it mean?
3. How does this apply to our situation?
4. How can we live this out this week?
Well-placed questions open doors to meaningful conversations. If you're like me - prone to lecture - questions help you replace monologue with dialogue.
Article by Jonathan McKee. He is the author of over a dozen books including the brand new More Than Just the Talk. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com.
For years, one of my high school students wrestled with the story of Jonah.
She knew it well – at least the Sunday school version of it. She'd grown up hearing about how Jonah disobeyed God and got swallowed by a big fish. While inside the fish, Jonah had a change of heart. So the fish spit him out and he went and did what he should have done to begin with: Preach to the people of Nineveh.
As a child, this student accepted the story of Jonah at face value (like most of us do). But by the time she got to high school, there were a lot of things that troubled this teen about Jonah.
Why would a good God cause such a bad storm?
How could God abandon his servant, Jonah, in the belly of a fish?
Was the time inside the fish God's way of punishing Jonah?
Since Jonah eventually ended up doing the thing he didn't want to do, does that mean he didn't really have a choice in the matter? Did Jonah really have free will?
Throughout her years in high school, this girl wrestled earnestly with the story of Jonah, which in a lot of ways, seemed to be her Biblical nemesis. Eventually, she even used the story of Jonah to lead a discussion about fate vs. free will for our high school ministry.
Even so, her questions remained.
I lost track of how often we'd talk about her questions together. In many ways, I became this student's co-doubter. I created a safe space for this girl to raise her questions and occasionally helped guide her to some answers.
Despite this, I felt like this was a situation where we'd take two steps forward and one-step back – something that I think is so often true of faith in general and youth ministry in particular.
Eventually, this student took her questions with her to college, where she continued wrestling with them.
Last weekend, this girl came home for Easter.
In my congregation, each year on the day before Easter we gather for the Easter Vigil – a service in which we creatively tell the Old Testament stories of our faith that lead up to Jesus.
Jonah is one of the stories told at the Easter Vigil.
This year, my student agreed to be the storyteller for Jonah. When I heard this, I was elated. Since she'd spent so long wrestling with this story, I suspected her rendition of it would be particularly good.
It did not disappoint.
This girl told the story from God's perspective. She spoke of God's relentless pursuit of us. Of God's patience. Of God's love and mercy in sending a fish to protect Jonah when he was thrown overboard. Of God's will and of our participation in God's story. Her words contained the answers to the questions that had, for so long, plagued her. I heard in them the resolution of years of having wrestled with this story. In this girl's words, I heard the story of her faith.
It brought me to tears.
So often, we try to measure the success of youth ministry with numbers. We expect to see immediate fruit from our labor.
But that's seldom how youth ministry works.
Often, faith formation takes time. Our job is to help students wrestle with their questions and guide them to a deeper faith in whatever time they grace our ministries. A lot of times, we send our teens out into the world without a fully formed faith, trusting that God's work isn't limited to our youth ministries; that God will continue to work in their lives long after they leave our ministries.
When we least expect it, God – in his mercy – sometimes gives us a glimpse of the ongoing work he's doing in the lives of our teens. God allows us to see the resolution of an unfinished story – like I did at Saturday's Easter Vigil.
Such moments always fill me with gratitude...